The Robi & Jeff Indochina Adventure 2013 travel blog

Hoi An

Monday, January 28, 2013

Day 19 of G

We are up at 4:30 for our pickup for the sunrise photography class at 5. Sharon and Greg are joining us. $35@ for 4 1/2 hours, the taxi ride, 2 ferry rides, tea or coffee(twice), breakfast, a bike ride and a photo lesson.

We are picked up by the taxi and Pieter right on time. Andy has made sure that the night time security fence in front of the hotel is unlocked so that we can get out this early in the morning. He left us a note that he slipped under our door in the middle of the night that said that the gates will be unlocked so that we can go to My Son. I guess that we have confused him again.

It is pitch black out but the streets are very busy with locals commuting or having breakfast on the streets. The street food stalls are hopping. There are lots of occupied little stools and slurping going on.

We pick up Willi at another hotel so there are 5 of us. It is a full class because they don't take groups larger than 5 which is fantastic. The taxi drops us off at the ferry. We have a spot of tea, black coffee or Vietnamese coffee while waiting for the ferry to arrive. Everyone is served tea as soon as they sit down and then if you order tea you get some in another glass. If you order coffee you still get that first cup of tea. We get our first lecture on not using the auto setting on the camera and how to use the aperture setting. The Hoi An photography website has a good tutorial on this that I read before we left on this trip, not that I'm really up on it this morning. It seems a long time ago that I read it.

The ferry is the one the locals use. The ride is quick but the sun is hiding behind the clouds so we don't get any sunrise photos. We arrive at the fishing village and get a few more pointers on photography and a lesson on the etiquette of how to approach the people to take their picture, or to not take their photo if they don't want us to. We are instructed to say hello to our subject if it is possible, in Vietnamese (sin chow) and gesture that we want to take their picture. They will, and did, let us know if it was ok to shoot them or not. If we take any photos of them we are to ask if they would like to see them. I have already been doing all of that on this trip. It is surprising how many of the local women do not want to be photographed and gesture very vehemently not to take their photo. The men don't seem to care. However when the fish come in most of the women in this village are too busy to pay attention to a few crazy tourists who are taking photos. A few do make it very clear that they do not want us to photograph them.

We take some photos of the river and the boats. We watch one younger woman come out of her house and walk to the river with several plastic bags of garbage. She dumps them into the river and then tosses the plastic bags in after them. Then she bathes her arms and legs in the river amongst the garbage. Yuck. She is totally unconcerned that we are there. Just her morning routine.

When the fishermen start to arrive all hell breaks loose. There are maybe only 30 people there but it gets pretty raucous. There ia a lot of loud harsh yelling and some pushing and shoving. The fish/shrimp/crab/squid are brought to shore from several different boats that arrive at different times, so each load of fish is quickly surrounded by the women. The sealife is brought ashore in different sized baskets and weighed on a few ancient portable and very small platform scales that don't seem very adequate to me. There is a lot more pushing and shoving and women grabbing fish from each other. There are no men doing any of this, only the women. The men are either fishermen or are in charge of the money. The money guys look particularly unsavory. I felt totally safe but it was more than a little bit nerve racking. At one point there was a fight over the accuracy of one of the scales. There were lots of "spirited discussions" as to who would get what fish. I couldn't tell if they were haggling over the price or not or just possession of the fish.

Some of the women seemed to be buying large amounts of fish to sell somewhere else and some were buying only 1 or 2 for their own use. There was one very sweet, very tiny old woman who Pieter says is there almost every morning getting in close but rarely buying any fish because she is too poor. She loves to be in the middle of it all and to get her photo taken. She just beams when you show her any photos you have taken of her and she likes to pose for the camera. Everyone else mostly just acts like we don't exist or they give us brief smiles or scowls and then ignore us. Jeff got shoved out of the way at one point. I'm sure that it wasn't meant to be personal at all, he just got in the way. Several women made it clear to us that they did not want to be photographed.

At the very end of all of the squabbling, pushing, shoving, yelling, screeching and selling, when almost everyone else had left with their purchases, our cute little Vietnamese woman finally got herself a very tiny fish. She was so excited that she ran over to show it off to all of us. She pretty much insisted that we take her picture with it. The fish was not what any of us would consider large enough for an appetizer but she was just beaming with pride.

None of the boats seemed to bring in a huge amount of fish. The fisherman go out to the ocean, not the river, to fish. It is reassuring that they are not fishing in this dirty river though there are huge nets strung up in many places in the river that are lowered into it to catch anything that might swim into them.

Pieter says that there is no Vietnamese word for privacy. So many families sleep all in one room with many people to one bed that they just don't have a conception of personal space like we Westerners do. Which brings to mind a story from yesterday. Apparently several of the men in our group, who shall be named (not Jeff- but hello Greg,Ray and Clive) have been patted on their bellies and been told "Happy Buddha!". This has happened in different places and times! Some of the men have also had their arms patted or their chest hair pulled and been called hairy monkeys- but always with a smile. It is certainly a different culture here.

We left the boat area and walked through a little village. We were the only non-locals. Pieter ordered us each a banh mi for breakfast from a street vender. The choices were meat or vegetarian. We then walked a block or so to a place where we could sit and we had some more tea and coffee. The sandwiches were delivered a few minutes later. The napkins were squares of newspaper that were cut into pieces about the size of a sheet of toilet paper. The banh mi was quite good. They were made from thin fresh baguettes and mine had chopped peanuts and veggies in it.

We ate our breakfast, talked a little more about photography and then continued through the village. We passed a tall multinstoried concrete building with thin horizontal openings in it. Above it was a loudspeaker playing bird sounds. Pieter says it plays 24 hours a day to attract birds so that the villagers can collect birds nests. It is interesting now that I think about it. I have not seen any "seabirds" or pigeons since I have been in Asia.

We continued on to nearly the edge of the town to visit the fish sauce "factory". The smell was very intense and Pieter says some tourists have fainted after going in. If you have ever smelled fish sauce multiply that smell by ten fold and you'll get the idea. Even I got a little grossed out. I was so proud of Jeff. He went in and took photos. No fainting. I didn't even hear any retching noises and it was pretty darn disgusting. We were there to practice taking photos in low light conditions. The fish sauce is made from dehydrated little fishes that soak in water for 6 (the cheap stuff) to 12 (the good stuff) months. There are living maggots in with the fish. The sauce is then poured into plastic bottles many of which are used and don't appear to have been cleaned out very well.

I cheated a lot and used the auto setting. Pieter called me a sinner.

After the "factory" we continued to walk through some of the back lanes of the village. We got to look into some private homes, a small cemetery, a sewing business and more. It was fascinating.

The people of the village were quite friendly and seemed to enjoy our fascination with them.

We took the ferry back across the river, hopped onto some bicycles and rode about 5 km back to the old town. It was quite a pleasant and interesting ride.

I talked to Pieter quite a bit on the ride back. He has his work cut out for him to make a living here. He has been in Vietnam for 8 years and has a Vietnamese wife and two young kids. I hope that he can make a go of it. He seemed very appreciative of his tips, almost overwhelmed for a brief second or two. We were all pretty generous because we had an absolutely fabulous morning. It was definitely one of the highlights of the trip so far.

We walked to the tailors to pick up my clothes. Luckily they were finished. There are a few dangling threads and the embroidery pulls a bit.The quality leaves a bit to be desired but they are nice enough and it was something to do since we were here. If I were to do it again I would find a better tailor and pay a bit more and have pre-planned my outfits better. Still how many people can say that they had custom fitted clothing made for them in Hoi An Vietnam? They tried hard to sell us more, including the shoes or purses but we escaped with our dong intact.

We walked quickly back to the hotel to make it in time to meet the group for an 11:00 boat ride only to find that it had been cancelled. We dropped off the clothes and walked back to town with Chris to find the Morning Glory restaurant for lunch. We had looked it up last night in Travel Advisor. The restaurant was quite good. It is owned by a woman who has 3 additional restaurants in Hoi An. I like to support women entrepreneurs, especially in this country. Good for her. The staff was well trained and both the service and the food were quite good. The kitchen is open to view so you can watch the women prepare the food. The kitchen is located in the middle of the sitting area of the restaurant.

We walked around town for a bit. Chris keeps getting chased by women who want to thread her eyebrows. Her eyebrows seem fine to me but apparently the Vietnamese women here think that she needs their services. At least they are not calling us hairy monkeys.

Jeff and I went back to the hotel for a well needed nap.

We went back to town with Chris for dinner. When we left the hotel it was raining fairly hard so Jeff went back to the room to get our hats. I reluctantly gave him my camera to leave in our room. I have not been without it this entire trip. I think that I have over 3,000 photos so far. Anyone want to come over for a slide show? Anyway i thought that I could do without it for one night.

We decided to try the "Wrap and Roll" restaurant that Pieter had recommended earlier in the day when I asked for a suggestion. On the way there we spotted John and Ray sitting in a bar drinking some beer, Where else would they be? They joined us to go out for a bite. They had been to the beach again and John is pretty cooked. He got burned yesterday but thought that since it was an overcast day today he could go out to the beach again. As Ray puts it, John looks like a beefsteak tomato. I hate to admit it but it's true. John's arms and face are pretty red and I guess his back is worse. Lots of little blisters.

The Wrap and Roll is nice. There were only 2 employees working and they could have used a few more. Our food was excellent and the conversation even better. Ray and John are pretty quick witted and pretty funny together when I can understand their Liverpool accents. Sometimes they are like an old married couple. John was telling Ray stories and Ray was telling John stories. I like johns description of Ray as acting like a deranged gorilla. Maybe you had to be there.

We kept being accosted by the local touts while sitting in the restaurant. Both Ray and John both engage them in conversation and they don't need much more encouragement than that. We did end up buying a bunch of peanuts and candied ginger from one of the more polite women. She gave us samples and kept telling me how pretty my hair was. The ginger and peanuts were good. 4 bags for 100,000 dong.

As if dinner weren't enough Chris and I went to the Mango restaurant for dessert and tea. Chris had never had mango sticky rice before and since she is a mango fanatic I thought she needed to give it a try. Of course we then got excessive and ordered the fried wontons stuffed with fruit and dripped with chocolate as well. We also had some excellent ginger, lemon and honey tea. Very nice. Jeff was more controlled and just had beer. Ray and John of course abandoned us for the bar scene.

The night was lovely and the photo opportunities endless. I was kicking myself about all of the lost possibilities. There are lanterns everywhere and the town looks so soft and lovely in the evening light. It seemed (only seemed) nice and clean after the rain and with the low lighting. We passed some of the boats that were moored for the night and instead of looking garish and unkempt they were especially beautiful with the reflections in the river.

We arrived back at the hotel at 10:30 and I just couldn't stand it. So Jeff and I grabbed our cameras and went back out into the night. It was a good 2 km walk each way. Unfortunately most of the lanterns were off so I missed the night time town photo op but I did get some great photos of the boats. Jeff and I did have to walk past the closed up market twice more and we got to see, and hear, lots of rats. The smell was also returning with a vengeance after the rain. I was surprised by the makeshift plastic tents that people were settled into for the night. We need to be very thankful for all we have.

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